Controversy pushes little-known Senate candidate Whitnum to the fore

Hartford - Of the five candidates vying for the state Democratic Party endorsement for U.S. Senate, Lisa "Lee" Whitnum, has the unique distinction of drawing more protesters than supporters to a debate appearance.

A former software engineer and substitute teacher who now lives off her investments, the 51-year-old Greenwich resident has twice run unsuccessfully for a federal office and has been the subject of off-election year headlines after filing lawsuits she wrote herself against prominent officials and institutions.

Years back, she authored a Sex and the City"-style novel for the hedge fund set and was romantically linked to a sitting U.S. senator and former presidential candidate.

But statewide name recognition and notoriety for Whitnum is a recent development.

Early this month, she was just another Senate candidate without public office experience or a deep personal fortune in a field crowded with current and former congressmen, the previous secretary of the state, a state legislator and the doyenne of a professional wrestling dynasty.

But she quickly emerged as the best known of the lesser-known candidates in this year's race to replace Sen. Joe Lieberman, who is retiring.

As her competitors jockeyed to prove their electability, Whitnum followed a different campaign playbook, punctuating her responses to nearly every moderator question with provocative claims about Israel and its U.S. allies. She name-called, finger-pointed and scolded fellow candidates, and once snapped at debate host, Dennis House of WFSB-TV Channel 3.

Whitnum all but stole the show at the April 5 debate, the night she called U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, a "whore" on live television for "selling his soul" to a pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Her closing statement proposed the criminal prosecutions of Americans Jews who journey to Israel to become settlers, and then "maim or kill in the Promised Land."

Whitnum apologized at the next debate, at the University of Connecticut, for having "a bit of a meltdown." She then proceeded to double-down on what has become a thesis of sorts in her campaign: that "neo-conservatives" in Washington, including Sen. Lieberman ("a card-carrying Israelist"), acted in concert with the AIPAC lobby to push the United States into war with Iraq in 2003.

An hour before the UConn event, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy - the target of one of her lawsuits - told reporters that Whitnum shouldn't have been invited to any of the candidate debates.

"You're talking about somebody who's on the fringe of the fringe," Malloy said, as quoted by The Hartford Courant. "She has almost no support, if any. She has not run a real campaign, as measured by the other primary candidates' performances - going to lots of city committees and town committees across the state, raising money, that sort of stuff … and now she's confirmed why she shouldn't be included."

Whitnum filed a defamation lawsuit in 2010 against Malloy, claiming that while he was mayor of Stamford he said at a press conference that she had made anti-Semitic comments.

The press conference occurred the day before the 2008 Democratic primary election for the 4th Congressional District. Jim Himes beat Whitnum in the primary 87 percent to 13 percent, and went on to wrest the seat from incumbent Republican Chris Shays. Two years later, Whitnum tried to challenge Richard Blumenthal for U.S. Senate.

Shays is now going head-to-head against Linda McMahon to win the GOP endorsement for Senate at the Republicans' May 18 convention.

Whitnum insists she has never made an anti-Semitic statement in her life. "I am, however, vehemently anti-AIPAC and anti-Zionist," she says in her campaign literature.

A Superior Court judge threw out her lawsuit last month.

Whitnum was greeted by protesters outside her third and final debate appearance, April 15. Eight or so members of a group calling themselves "Connecticut Zionists for Israel" stood at the driveway entrance to WFSB-TV's studio in Rocky Hill, displaying U.S and Israeli flags and demonstration signs.

The signs featured a fake image of Whitnum clad in a Nazi uniform with swastikas. The signs declared they are not claiming that Whitnum belongs to the Nazi party, but that her policy goal of stopping all U.S. aid to Israel, a nation facing many threats, "would lead to the same result as was sought by Nazism."

"She is worse than anti-Semitic, because if her policies were implemented, they would result in the murder of millions of Israeli Jews," said protester Seth Rosenblit of West Hartford. "I just can't understand why the Democratic Party and the media keep inviting her to these debates."

WFSB News Director Dana Neves said the station let Whitnum participate for the sake of fairness.

Officials with the state Democratic Party, the Connecticut region of the Anti-Defamation League and the Washington AIPAC office did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

As the five Democratic candidates waited for the debate cameras to go live, four of them - Murphy, Susan Bysiewicz, state Rep. William Tong and Matthew Oakes of East Hartford - chatted and joked with one another. Whitnum sat off to the side, sifting through a pile of documents she brought with her.

She went on to deliver one of her fieriest critiques of the U.S. aid policy toward Israel.

"There is not any reason in the world why a country that is not impoverished should get so much of our money," Whitnum declared, "except for the fact that this congressman and most members of Congress are in the pocket of AIPAC."

Loosely autobiographical

Written eight years ago under Whitnum's pseudonym, Lee Roystone, "Hedge Fund Mistress" was described by The Times of London as a fictional yet loosely autobiographical drama set largely in Greenwich, in which a Whitnum alter-ego, Nikki Matthews, has a steamy on-and-off romance with a Massachusetts U.S. senator modeled on Sen. John Kerry. The character in the book runs for president, as Kerry did in 2004.

Before the 2004 election, Whitnum created a website with photos and memorabilia from what she described as her 20-month relationship with Kerry that started in 1990, while she was a graduate student and the senator was between marriages.

In an interview with The Day, Whitnum said she will never forget the morning of the day 22 years ago when she met Kerry.

"There was a cloud behind me, I kept whirling around like there was something on my shoulder," she recalled. "And I fell to my knees and I said, 'God, I don't know what is going to happen to me, but I have the most profound feeling that my life will never be the same again.

"And I had no idea what was going to transpire that day. I could not have possibly known. But I will say, that my life has never been the same."

Kerry's office declined to comment publicly for this article.

Whitnum dates the beginning of her current views regarding Israel to late 2003, when she started to read articles and books about the run-up to the Iraq war. "I realized that a handful of people (led) us into an unnecessary war," she said. "There were never any weapons of mass destruction."

The first book that really resonated with her was "Plan of Attack" by journalist Bob Woodward, one of the two reporters who unearthed the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. "But I have to say that I'm really disappointed in Bob Woodward," she said. "If he knew what was happening ahead of time - he was there - he could have stopped the war."

Whitnum accuses Lieberman of attending the 2002 Wehrkunde Conference in Munich to "clamor for European support to go to war."

"He used his position to further Israel's goals," Whitnum claims. "That's treasonous as far as I'm concerned."

The senator's press secretary and spokeswoman, Whitney Phillips, said in a statement that Lieberman "makes his decisions on national security solely based upon what serves the interests of the United States and what makes Americans safer."

A campaign, a wedding

Whitnum's website notes the formation of al Qaida, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Iraq war all as being the result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She calls the U.S. Israel's "enabler."

As a veteran of political and peace protests, Whitnum has come to believe that politics is the only route to solving big problems. That is why she is running for Senate. "You have the mouthpiece if something comes up," she said.

This month she sued the office of Secretary of the State Denise Merrill seeking $75,000 in damages and a court order to provide her with the information she says she needs to continue her Senate campaign, should the May 12 Democratic convention not go her way.

"All I want is simple damn answers," Whitnum said. "I want it in writing before I embark on the time and effort for a petition drive."

She also has sued the town of Greenwich for renting out its town hall for a bar mitzvah, and a newspaper that excluded her from a debate.

Whitnum has two options for keeping alive her candidacy if the May 12 Democratic convention doesn't go her way. She could force an Aug. 14 primary with the Democrat-endorsed candidate, which would require the collection of roughly 14,000 signatures. Or she could go the independent route and gather the 7,500 signatures needed to get her name on the November ballot, as Lieberman did in 2006.

This month Whitnum began dropping hints at debates about a husband and updated the biography on her campaign website from "single" to "married." "I know! In the middle of all this, what do I do? Go and get married," she said with a laugh.

She declined to reveal the date of their ceremony or much else about her husband, James Baker, who she says is a very private individual. "I don't want to draw any attention to him," she said.

j.reindl@theday.com

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